Several sightings and a shed antler that scored 113 4/8 non-typical points sent this avid bowhunter on a two-year quest for a true Illinois giant.
Chuck Hamstra arrowed his great buck in early November 2008 during the peak of the rut. On the afternoon of his hunt, Chuck didn't have time to change out of his work clothes before heading to his tree stand. The 21-point megabuck had a 6x5 frame with 10 additional abnormal points. The rack grossed 202 5/8 inches and netted 181 4/8 after deductions. The right antler grossed 98 5/8 inches as compared to the previous year's shed antler, which scored 113 4/8 inches. The old monarch was definitely going downhill.
Situated in northwestern Illinois a stone's throw from Albany and the Mississippi River, Chuck Hamstra's farm encompasses the same rolling terrain where his grandparents settled during the early 1930s. Over the years, in addition to maintaining the family's farming lifestyle and strong work ethic, Chuck also developed a passion for hunting, especially deer hunting.
"Neither my father or grandfather were hunters, so I'm not sure what happened with me," Chuck said with a laugh. "I must have picked up an extra gene or two from somewhere. But whatever the reason, I seem to have passed the interest on to my children and grandchildren."
The Hamstra farming landscape includes numerous agricultural fields of various sizes interspersed with small-acreage woodlots, brushy ravines, CRP lands and winding tree-lined creek drainages. In regard to whitetails, the habitat simply couldn't be much better.
The farm's home site, which is centrally located along a high ridgeline, originally included a stone farmhouse that was built in 1856. The stone house had been used by Chuck's parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, it was completely destroyed in 1996 by a tornado. The monster storm also eliminated several nearby buildings and barns, plus two large silos. A new house and farm buildings have since been rebuilt on the same site.
With agricultural fields nearly surrounding the ridgetop location, it is fairly common for Chuck or his wife Judy to spot deer from the house or barn. For the most part, these are incidental sightings made at various times throughout the year, but occasionally a buck that warrants special attention is sighted.
A NEAR MISS ON A CHARMED BUCK
During the fall of 2006, Chuck was working on equipment near the barn when he happened to see a large buck crossing one of the open fields. Gun season was open, and he assumed that hunters on one of the adjoining properties had probably jumped the deer.
"The buck was well over 200 yards away," Chuck said. "But even at that distance and without the aid of binoculars, I could tell that the deer's rack was obviously very large. I continued to watch the buck until he eventually disappeared into a brushy drainage ravine between two of our fields. After several minutes elapsed without seeing him reappear, I was pretty confidant that he had bedded down in the thick cover."
Chuck immediately contacted his two sons, David and Kevin, and told them what he had seen and where he thought the buck was located. Grabbing their shotguns, the two hunters walked to the lower end of the ravine. They split up, one man on each side of the thick, brushy cover, and slowly began to advance toward the spot where their dad had last seen the deer.
"The buck came busting out on my youngest son's side (Kevin), and he missed the deer completely," Chuck said. "Later, he told me that he'd gotten close enough to get a pretty decent look at the buck's heavy rack, and he said it appeared to include at least two drop tines.
"From my high vantage point, I had continued to watch the buck cross two additional fields and go into a distant block of woods on a bordering farm. Earlier that day, I had seen other hunters at the same location, and I naturally assumed it would be only a matter of time until the shooting started. But surprisingly, not a shot was fired! I have always been amazed at how an animal the size of a mature whitetail buck can somehow go undetected in relatively sparse cover, especially a fairly open woodlot."
The Hamstra farm has produced a number of big bucks over the years, including this outstanding 10-pointer taken by Kevin Hamstra in 2003. Kevin's muzzleloader giant grossed in the high 170s.
A HUGE SHED SWEETENS THE POT
The buck was not seen again that fall. During the 2007-2008 season, the deer was sighted only twice. Both encounters took place at night, when members of the Hamstra clan were coyote hunting. The second sighting was made in early January by Chuck's grandson, who reported that the buck had already shed one side of his rack.
"I had no doubt that the buck was primarily nocturnal," Chuck said. "Even so, I had planned to bowhunt a good bit in January specifically for him. Weather conditions that time of year can sometimes alter a deer's movement pattern, and I had a hunch where he was located. But my plans were canceled when I heard that the deer had already shed one of his antlers."
Three months later, around the middle of April, Chuck received a welcomed call from Greg Hayen, a good friend who occasionally did a little spring gobbler hunting on the farm. Greg told him that while he was turkey hunting along a wooded ridgetop near the old cemetery, he had found a big non-typical shed antler that might possibly have belonged to the drop-tine whitetail.
"While describing the antler, Greg mentioned that there were nearly as many points sticking one way as the other and he wasn't exactly sure how it had been positioned on the deer's head," Chuck said. "He went on to say that the antler would be lying on the tailgate of his truck and I could come by and pick it up whenever I had a chance. I immediately told him to put the shed antler inside the truck and I would be there in 30 minutes!"
After picking up the shed, Chuck stopped by to see Rudy Morgan, the owner of R&R Sports just across the river in nearby Clinton, Iowa. The two men have been friends for over 20 years and annually travel to Wyoming each fall to bowhunt for elk.
"I saw Chuck come walking in the store, carrying this huge hunk of bone, and asked the obvious question as to where he had found the antler," Rudy said. "He immediately responded that it was the shed from the big drop-tine buck he had been after for two years. I told him he was never going to kill an a
nimal as old and smart as that buck. Why, that deer probably knew where every stand on his farm was located. He just shook his head and gave me one of those 'wait and see' grins."
The shed's measurements provide some perspective as to why the antler might arouse more than merely a passing interest. The main beam measures 26 7/8 inches long and has five typical points, including an 8 1/8-inch brow tine, a 10 7/8-inch G-2 and a 9 1/8-inch G-3. There are 6 additional abnormal points, including a 10 5/8-inch drop tine with a 3 6/8-inch fork, and another 8 2/8-inch drop tine. The shed antler totals 113 4/8 inches.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
Later that fall, on a warm afternoon during the first week of November, Chuck was settled in his combine, busily picking corn. Around 4:30, he decided to call his wife and check on the whereabouts of his sons. She quickly responded that they had already left for the woods to get in their tree stands.
"My first thought was, 'What's wrong with this picture? The rut is going on and I'm picking corn while both of them are hunting.' I immediately headed the combine toward the house."
There was no time for Chuck to change clothes and clean up. He quickly grabbed his bow and hunting gear, put it in the back of his 4-WD utility vehicle and headed for a tree stand location along a brushy creek bottom about half a mile behind the house.
"As I was going out the door, Judy reminded me that we really didn't need any more mounts hanging on the walls," Chuck noted. "I told her okay.
"I normally don't drive very close to where I'm planning to hunt, but in this instance, with barely an hour of daylight left, I decided to drive a little farther than normal.
Unfortunately, just as I was about to stop, I jumped a bunch of does, and they all went charging off through the brush and down along the creek.
"That was disappointing to say the least, but with the rut going on I knew anything was possible, so I climbed on up into the stand. Luckily, the wind direction that evening was ideal."
NO TIME TO DALLY
Shortly after getting situated, the hunter took out an old grunt tube that had seen many years of use, and grunted several times. Minutes later, he repeated the grunt sequence.
Chuck was looking off to the right, along the creek, when out of the corner of his eye he suddenly saw a large buck step into view just below him. Only 12 feet above the ground, Chuck could feel the deer's presence as much as see it.
"I hadn't heard the slightest sound," Chuck said. "It was almost as if the buck simply materialized out of thin air. With the deer only 10 yards away, I couldn't risk turning my head, nor did I want to make eye contact. A large limb was hanging down from the tree, and I had seen other bucks occasionally use that limb as a licking branch. I kept thinking that maybe this deer might do the same thing. Then, almost as if on cue, he abruptly took two or three steps forward and stretched his neck up toward the limb."
Taking advantage of the deer's momentary attention lapse, Chuck quickly swung his bow around and drew and released, all in one motion. At the shot, the big whitetail bolted forward so quickly that Chuck was never able to get a clear view of the deer's rack.
"All I knew for sure was that the buck was big and I had made a good shot," the hunter noted. "Several seconds later, I heard the deer crash to the ground."
A TIME TO CELEBRATE
Not wanting to take any unnecessary chances, Chuck climbed out of the stand and drove back to the house to wait for David and Kevin. That wait turned out to be much longer than he had anticipated because Kevin had several bucks chasing a doe under his tree right at dark and he didn't want to climb down until they left.
"As soon as the boys returned, I told them about shooting my buck and we all headed back to the creek," Chuck said. "On the way, Kevin asked if I thought I had shot the drop-tine deer and I told him that I simply never got a good enough look at the rack."
After arriving at the location, the three hunters found a distinct blood trail. Within minutes, Kevin and David began whooping and hollering. The buck had traveled less than 60 yards.
Across the river in Clinton, Rudy had been home from work only a short while when his phone rang. Upon answering, all he could hear were the sounds of several people talking excitedly in the background. Then he identified Chuck's voice.
"He kept repeating, 'I killed him, I killed him, I killed him,'" Rudy related. I finally responded, 'What are you talking about?' and he said, 'I've killed the big drop-tine buck! You and your son need to get over here.'
"Chuck said they were still out in the field with the buck, but from all the noise and voices I heard in the background, I assumed that a large crowd of people were gathered around," Rudy said. "But when I asked him who was there, he responded by saying that it was just him and his two sons. I thought to myself, 'Wow, are you guys wound up or what,' and then I told him that we'd be right over."
AN EYE-POPPING SIGHT
Rudy arrived just as Chuck was pulling into the shed. The huge buck was stretched out in the back of the truck. The deer had a field-dressed weight of 199 pounds, which would easily place the live-weight figure over 260. Although there had been heavier bucks taken on the farm, none had ever been more impressive, especially when considering the deer's size combined with the massive set of antlers.
"Most of Chuck's family, including all of his grandkids, soon gathered around the truck to get a close look at the buck," Rudy said. "At that time, Chuck's wife Judy hadn't seen the deer yet, and during all the years of knowing her, I had never once heard her utter even a mild profanity. But as she walked around the corner and spotted the buck, her surprised reaction included a short prophetic phrase that punctuated the moment and, for at least a few seconds, diverted the grandkids' attention away from the deer. Considering the buck's sheer size, I have to agree that her comment fit the occasion!"
The huge rack includes 21 scorable points, 11 of which make up the basic 6x5 typical frame. From an appearance standpoint, the rack has tremendous character, due primarily to the presence of four drop tines. Two of the drops originate off the bottom of the right and left main beams, in the normal manner. The other two flare backward from the base of the right G-2 and left G-3 tines. Impressive antler mass throughout the rack, plus webbing in several of the tines, adds even more character.
In regard to the scoring, the huge non-typical rack grossed a grand total of 202 5/8 inches.
Unfortunately, significant side-to-side deductions reduced the final non-typical score by over 21 points to a net score of 181 4/8. Without question, though, this is one of those phenom
enal racks where the net score does not come close to reflecting its true size or magnificence.
When compared to the shed from 2007, which scored 113 4/8, the rack's right antler dropped slightly in size, scoring a total of 98 5/8. Most of the difference was due to a shorter main beam and 10 fewer inches of abnormal points.
GOOD MANAGEMENT, A GREAT BUCK!
The Hamstra buck is an excellent example of what can happen when good habitat management is combined with allowing young bucks an extra year or two of growth.
This combination doesn't automatically mean all bucks will become record-book contenders, but it does mean they will achieve their genetic potential.
Although the tornado of '96 destroyed many of the farm's early mounted trophies, there have been other notable whitetails killed in recent years. The largest was taken with a muzzleloader during the 2003 season when Kevin crawled to within 60 yards of a giant buck that was bedded in a brushy CRP field and made an admirable shot. The typical 10-pointer scored in the high 170s.
Whitetail bucks like Chuck's drop-tine monster may be notoriously unpredictable, but sound deer management is the exact opposite. The Hamstra farm is a perfect example of what can be accomplished, and there is every reason to believe the trend will continue in the years ahead.
The walls at the Hamstra house may never harbor any additional mounts (if Judy has her way), but that really doesn't matter. Standing in one corner is an awesome non-typical whitetail that will be awfully hard to top!